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Nikolaj Frobenius's Teori og praksis in Theory and Practice

From: Scandinavian Studies
Volume 84, Number 1, Spring 2012
pp. 59-86 | 10.1353/scd.2012.0009

In lieu of an abstract, here is a brief excerpt of the content:

Nikolaj Frobenius's 2004 novel, Teori og praksis (Theory and Practice) instigated a passionate debate about the reputation of Rykkinn, the suburban planned community in which the novel is set. Although warmly received by literary critics, the book was viewed by many readers as a dishonest and disloyal portrait of a place that perpetuated negative stereotypes and damaged the reputation of the community. As a result of massive media attention, Frobenius subsequently appeared on a nationally televised debate about Rykkinn with comedian and fellow Rykkinn-native Harald Eia and participated in a tension-filled town meeting regarding his portrayal of the community. In this article, I explore some of the theoretical implications of this debate, particularly regarding the meaning of place in late modern identity construction and the conceptual gray area between fact and fiction, both of which are primary preoccupations in Teori og praksis. In order to do this, I focus on the relationship between three texts: the novel itself, historian Vidar Enebakk's critique of the novel published in the journal Arr, and Frobenius's reflections on the debate in the essay "Rasende drabanter" [furious satellites/henchmen], which was published the year after in the journal Samtiden. In addition, I will touch on the 2011 film adaptation of the novel, Sønner av Norge (Sons of Norway), for which Frobenius himself wrote the screenplay. I do so in order to examine the rhetorical strategies Frobenius employs the transformation of his text from individualistic artistic expression into a collective memorial through the course of the debate. I see this as a strategy that forces a previously hostile audience to re-evaluate Teori og praksis by appealing directly to their sense of a collective ethos in a way that the original text rather uncompromisingly refuses to do. The novel itself is a multi-modal artifact containing both reproductions of photographs and other documents as well as substantial paratextual material in addition to the diegetic narrative. It thus seems appropriate to consider the ensuing debate together with the novel as one interconnected multi-modal textual nexus. The fact that Frobenius later collaborated on the film adaptation of the novel and indeed in a 2011 lecture explicitly described the novel and film as two components of one large "mislykket" [failed] project, supports the notion that Teori og praksis is not just a discrete literary text, but rather an aesthetic and critical project that exceeds genre boundaries.

Teori og praksis

In this section, I will examine three of the most striking aspects of the novel, namely Frobenius's experimentation with literary self representation, the multi-modality of the text, and the primacy of place in the narrative. Frobenius opens Teori og praksis with a footnote to the word "roman" [novel], which appears on the title page as a genre designation. The footnote is, according to Frobenius, a "bruksanvisning" [instruction manual] for the reader, and ostensibly at least it portrays the author's state of mind at some point of crisis during a late stage in the writing of the manuscript. The author is referred to only in the third person ("han" [he]), and we are told that "i flere uker (21 dager, snart 22) har han ikke klart å tenke på annet enn dette: Hvor slutter selvbiografien ... og hvor begynner romanen?" (5) [for many weeks (21 days, soon 22) he had not been able to think about anything other that this: Where does autobiography end ... and where does the novel begin?]. The reader rather quickly deduces that the protagonist of the novel (as well as the narrator of its extradiegetic material, which includes notes, prologue, and epilogue) is to be understood as a fictional version of the historical author Nikolaj Frobenius and that the narrator who describes the thoughts and actions of the fictional Frobenius is also to be understood as being (a version of) Nikolaj Frobenius.

This blurring of where autobiography ends and novel begins places Frobenius's Teori og praksis within a constellation of other Norwegian and Nordic texts that were preoccupied with the problem of literary self-representation at approximately the same time. Within the field of literary scholarship, a number of Nordic scholars have focused attention on literary self representation...


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